◆France, Parco(*1 ) and 'Koibito yo'

- Had you been to France before you went there to record?
I'd never been there before. Compared with the US, my image of France for the young Japanese people like me was that of a dark country hidden in the corner of the world map and I was really worried about going there. In 1976, there was a CBS World Convention(*2) where representatives from all over the world sang songs recommended by their countries. Two groups of singers had their songs presented at the Convention. In the one group, the singers performed their songs live. For the second group, only recordings were heard by the audience. France asked me to come for a debut after hearing my album 'Mayumity' which was introduced at that Convention. At that time my musical activities in Japan were in a slump. That was why I went to France.

- What kind of slump?
I couldn't get inspired to write any more new songs. I didn't give myself up to alcohol though (laughing).
Maybe it was when I wrote, 'Mayumity'. I was very depressed and didn't have any energy to do anything. I could still write songs though, if I pressured myself to write against my will. But I didn't like doing that.
I thought that I needed a rest, so I kind of forced myself to go to France.

- Was that in order to help change your mental state?
Yes, partly. The opportunity to go to France came from the people there via CBS France. So I thought it
was a good opportunity. But I did not actively seek to go and didn't know what I was doing. I just felt drawn to go. So I went.

- Did you write songs to sing in France before leaving Japan?
No, I just had French lyricists translate my songs into French.

- After returning to Japan, you had some time to think. Tell me about your Parco performance.
Well, France inspired me and gave me a guideline for my whole life, not only in my music. That I was actually there had meaning for me.

- So your experience in France changed you drastically. One example is that the image of you as a longhaired woman wearing jeans completely changed. Was it a kind of culture shock?
Ha ha. Well, my color sense changed. Actually I am the kind of person who doesn't hesitate to make changes. So my way of writing songs completely changed after coming back from France. My old fans may have felt uneasy when they listened to my newer musical style.

- Many years ago, there were many people who were drawn to a particular genre, like folk song fans. So the change in your songwriting style must have been a kind of a shock to those people.
I think so.

- Besides that, you performed at 'Parco'?
Yes, I did, at Parco.

- Did your experience of going to France change your mood, too?
Yes, it did. Before that I didn't care about what I wore at all. I just wore clothes I thought would convey the image of me as a singer and songwriter or as a messenger to deliver my ideas. But after France, I started to adopt more visual techniques in my performances. I used to think that I should blend in with the instrumentation. And I used to be nervous when I wasn't holding my guitar or sitting at the piano, but I decided to start singing using a hand mike and dancing around a bit. That's whenI really began to feel like a professional singer.

- You said that you were in a slump. Did anything good come out of that experience?
Yes, I think so. I could not think clearly at all during the slump. And because of that I was able to go to France.

- How long did Parco concerts last? Did they last quite long?
They continued for a long time and each concert also was quite long. I did this as a kind of a lesson for
myself at the beginning. Unlike in big concert halls, the audience sitting in the last row could see my face
in the Parco concert hall. This made me want to develop my talents as Mayumi Itsuwa the performer rather than just as a composer. If a concert has a long run, the audience can select a convenient day to see it. But for the performers, it is much tougher. Performing live concerts is not like screening a movie. The singers have to perform live every day. The performance is physical labor for us, so it's possible for us to become worn out mentally. Some days we have good performances, but other days we don't. Some days we don't feel very enthusiastic, but other days we inspire the audience, etc. These kinds of things repeat every day. But looking back on that time, every day was a good lesson for me.

- What would you do if you were asked to have a three-week concert?
Well, that would be very tough. It's different when you are on a tour where the venues and the kinds of people in the audience change, but for three weeks at one venue this would not be the case. It's very difficult in many ways, so I don't think that I would do it.

- I think you have tried a lot of new things.
I think so. At that time, everything was so fresh and interesting to try. I felt as if I was going to get a lot of inspiration from doing them.

- Was the song 'Sayonara dake wa iwanaide' a step toward 'Koibito yo'? Do you feel that this song made it possible for you to write 'Koibito yo'?
Yes, I think so. 'Sayonara dake wa iwanaide' was a very challenging song for me. I am sorry to say this now, but at that time I thought this song would be kept only on tape, but my music director released it as
a single. CBS Sony had their own image of the outside of Mayumi Itsuwa as a singer and thought this song could make her successfully professionally. However I didn't realize it. When I was younger, I used to sing pop songs, but I felt kind of ashamed to sing them then. Because 'Sayonara dake wa iwanaide'
was more like a pop song for me I realized that I had already acquired the necessary singing skills to
sing pops (laughing). People may say that I had been hiding that ability. (laughing) When 'Sayonara dake wa iwanaide' was released, it eventually became a hit.

- For 'Koibito yo', did the lyrics come first?
That song came very naturally. I wrote a few songs at that time. I remember that we were planning to release a single record, so I wrote three songs. This song was one of them and the lyrics came first and they came very easily.

- This song became a big hit for you. What does that mean to you as a songwriter?
I am very glad about it, no question. Nobody influenced me in the writing of that song and no one else had any input into it. It just kind of happened naturally. If there was any hidden meaning in the lyrics, it didn't do well at the beginning. Then it gradually started gaining popularity, slowly climbing the charts, which made me very happy. And this song is an example of the perfect expression of my musical style. Anyone who listens to only this one song should be able to understand me nearly perfectly. Whenever I sing this song, I always feel very serious, even to this day.

- Have you ever changed the arrangement of that song?
I sometimes alter the arrangement for live performances, but not fundamentally. Once Mr. Funayama, the arranger, decided to begin the song with forty seconds of only strings like the musical score for a movie.
I don't think that could happen again. Everybody was so enthusiastic and cooperative at that time. To tell
you the truth, the take that was on the album was the first vocal dubbing right after setting the tempo for the song when I just said "I'm going to sing now. Please record it!". Actually I went into the recording booth before the musicians had finished packing up their instruments to leave.

- I heard that a pirated edition of one of your records was being sold in Hong Kong.
Yes, I saw them. That's why I became popular in Hong Kong, too. There were so many pirated records released that I became popular without realizing it. (laughing) When I arrived at the airport for my concerts in 1982, there were huge crowds of fans waiting for me.

- Was that a cover version?
Yes, it was. The pirated one also had the same type of arrangement as mine and it sold well before my version did.

- If you want to be a popular singer in Hong Kong, you need to write good songs and you have to be a good singer as well. We could say it is a good vocal song. Was the atmosphere on the stage in Hong Kong completely different from when you appeared in the Olympia Theater?
In France, I had to sing songs in French and so the audience response was good because of that, or maybe because of Adamo who invited me to sing on his stage, and they applauded enthusiastically. Comparing that with my experience in Hong Kong, Hong Kong was a great experience for me. It was the
most energetic performance I had during that period. The audience yelled, 'Keep it up! More! More!'. I had one concert outside in a stadium with about 7,000 to 8,000 people. Everybody showed his or her excitement by shouting 'Finally, we have a singer to idolize!' They listened attentively and seemed to be
enjoying my songs from the bottom of their hearts as if they were oblivious to everything else. Their eyes
were shining, too. I was very encouraged by that concert. I felt that the people received a kind of energy
from my performances outside of Japan. I n Hong Kong I was more a writer than a singer. For one thing, my name became well known among the local singers as a writer first, not as a singer. So it was only after I was in the Kohaku Utagassen (Red & White Song Festival) that I became popular enough that my audiences responded enthusiastically. Those people now even know the latest information on my newly released albums.

- Did you visit Indonesia?
Yes, I went to Jakarta to have a concert after my first child's birth. I became famous there without ever performing there. That was because of 'Kokorono tomo'.

- The children there pointed at you and said something...?
When I was walking around downtown, the people were saying, 'Kokorono tomo'. And some people at the airport said the same thing. (laughing). I've only sung that song in Japanese, so I have no idea why it was so popular there.

- So it seems you don't have any intention of dominating the world with your music, do you? But it was very interesting to hear that your songs have become big hits in Hong Kong and Indonesia even though they are in Japanese.
English songs are understood everywhere, but Japanese songs are usually thought to be too difficult to be understood all over the world. But Japanese songs were accepted because people understood the real feeling and emotions expressed in the songs irrespective of the words.

Note]Parco(*1): There are still perfomances at the Parco Theater.
CBS World Convention(*2): CBS Sony (current Sony Music) introduced prospective singers
and their songs at the Convention